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Picture from the film adaptation of <em>A Clockwork Orange</em> by Anthony Burgess

May 14, 1962
Anthony Burgess   (1917 - 1993)
Cutting A Clockwork Orange
by Steve King

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On this day in 1962 Anthony Burgess's A Clockwork Orange was published. Although many do not think it his best novel -- the vote seems to go to Earthly Powers (1980) -- A Clockwork Orange made Burgess internationally famous, largely due to the controversey surrounding the 1971 Stanley Kubrick film. Some found the book prophetic of our social breakdown; some blamed the book for helping to cause that breakdown, or capitalize on it; some dismissed both book and author outright: "Anthony Burgess is a literary smart aleck whose novel, A Clockwork Orange last year achieved a success d'estime with critics like William Burroughs, who mistook his muddle of sadism, teddyboyism, jive talk and Berlitz Russian for social philosophy."

Burgess said that it was his least favorite book, but he did not think that he was in a muddle over meaning: the muddle was due to the film being based on the American edition of the book, which omitted his last chapter. In his introduction to the 1986, restored, American edition, he says that he gave in to his American editors because he needed their money, but they turned his novel into a fable, something merely sensational and not "a fair picture of human life." He explains that in his last chapter -- symbolically, Chapter 21 -- "my young thuggish protagonist grows up" because he recognizes "that human energy is better expended on creation than destruction":
    ... a human being is endowed with free will. He can use this to choose between good and evil. If he can only perform good or only perform evil, then he is a clockwork orange -- meaning that he has the appearance of an organism lovely with colour and juice but is in fact only a clockwork toy to be wound up by God or the Devil or (since this is increasingly replacing both) the Almighty State.
Having had to write the book "in a state of near drunkenness in order to deal with material that upset me very much," Burgess was similarly unhappy with those who thought him promoting violence rather than protesting mechanization: "It is better to have our streets infested with murderous young hoodlums than to deny individual choice." And better violence in the streets than death by television, says antihero Alex to his droogs, as they head out "for a yell or a razrez or a bit of in-out-in-out in the dark":
    ...and in the windows of all the flats you could viddy like blue dancing light. This would be the telly. Tonight was what they called a worldcast, meaning that the same programme was being viddied by everybody in the world that wanted to, that being mostly the middle-aged middle-class lewdies. There would be some big famous stupid comic chelloveck or black singer, and it was all being bounced off the special telly satellites in outer space, my brothers.

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